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What Does $5 Get a Farmer?
Cover crops spring up in an Illinois farm field

There are many risks that a farmer deals with every year. A sudden frost right after a few warm weeks in spring, flooding at the wrong time of the year, price fluctuations, problems with suppliers, and equipment breakdowns are just a few of the things that can affect the timing of a farmer’s planting operations and determine whether the season will be a good one or a bad one.

When it comes to adopting regenerative practices that we know are great for water quality and soil health, farmers who are not used to doing those practices, have not planned for them before, or who are concerned about issues like the costs and timing of upgrading their equipment, might say those practices are too risky to implement. Without the right conservation tools and programs to help alleviate some of those risks, many farmers will remain uncertain about integrating regenerative practices into their operations.

We know that delays in getting more regenerative practices on the land have big consequences when it comes to goals like reducing nutrient losses from farm fields and sequestering excess carbon from the atmosphere in soils. It also means as the impacts of climate change worsen, farmers are less prepared to deal with new shocks and stresses that might emerge.

Cover crops provide deep root structure which can help with many things, like reducing soil erosion

While long established state and federal cost share programs like the Environmental Qualities Incentive Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program are the gold standard for on-farm financial assistance for farmers implementing conservation practices, they can take a long time to access. They also can require a significant amount of additional planning that goes beyond a farmer’s normal planning for a given crop season and can take a lot of time without help from local Natural Resource Conservation Service offices or Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

Technical assistance, education, and tools like the COMET Planner, or the STAR Program, are great resources for farmers to evaluate which options might be best for them to get regenerative practices implemented on their fields. However, the costs of implementing those practices may still be a steep price to pay. That’s why programs like Illinois Fall Covers for Spring Savings and other Crop Insurance Premium Discount programs are so important and fill a critical gap. We are also excited to see other states exploring opportunities to establish similar programs in Indiana and Wisconsin.

These programs offer a simple incentive, a $5/acre discount on the cost of crop insurance, and require little more than a simple application that aligns with the normal paperwork that a farmer needs to file year-to-year. For those farmers that might otherwise have time commitments or other challenges that keep them away from more traditional cost share programs, these alternative options provide an easy way to reduce some of the financial risk for farmers.

What does $5/acre get you? In Illinois, that $5 means at least 50,000 acres a year that are capturing and harnessing nutrients in our precious soils and reducing erosion. It also means $5/acre is available for a farmer to invest in other parts of their operation or the local community.

A recent survey by the University of Illinois also indicates farmers who plant cover crops adopt other conservation practices, like no till, at rates higher than the state average. In this way, that simple $5/acre incentive can provide a road map to farmers adopting other impactful practices. Over time, we know that the adoption of regenerative practices means potentially lower input costs, higher yields and more dependable growing conditions. Those factors add up to making a stronger and more resilient Midwest.

 

That’s why we’re asking the Illinois General Assembly to increase funding for the Fall Covers for Spring Savings program to support cover crops on 200,000 acres.

Use your voice to support this program!

 

Help us support the growth of programs that implement regenerative practices and learn more about how cover crops and no till can be part of the climate solution.

 

 

 

About the Author
Max Webster

Midwest Policy Manager

mwebster@farmland.org

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